Goodbye Rat. Hello Ox.
Today begins the Lunar New Year, commonly known as the Chinese New Year — but many other Asian countries also celebrate the holiday.
The Chinese Emperor Huang Ti established the lunar calendar in 2637 B.C. Based upon an agricultural society, lunar cycles of the moon’s rotation around the earth were used by the ancient Chinese to register changes in the seasons. Each year has 12 months, just like our calendar. There is some discrepancy as to how many days are in the year, varying from 354 to 360.
Those who follow the lunar calendar, still account for the extra days. “Every 19 years, there is a double month, and it’s nice because you get a double birthday,” said April Chiung-Tao Sheu, a University Ph.D. student from Taiwan.
In addition to 12-month periods in one year, the lunar calendar also honors the time in 12-year cycles. Each year is named after one of 12 animals.
According to legend, when lord Buddha was departing the earth for heaven, he summoned all the animals to him, although only 12 animals showed up to bid him farewell. As a reward, he named a year after them.
Instead of a horoscope sign based on the birth date, people in countries adhering to the lunar calendar think they carry traits of the animal ruling in the year they were born.
Today ushers in the year of the Ox. People born in the year of the Ox are said to be hard-working and persistent. They believe in themselves and tend to see things as either bad or good, according to folklore.
But no matter which animal governs the new year, millions of people celebrate the holiday as the largest and most important celebration in the Chinese tradition.
In preparation for the holiday, families will put red banners on the outsides of their doors, wishing good thoughts for the new year. The color red symbolizes prosperity and also protects citizens from the “dragons and lions” that dance through the streets during the festival.
Very popular during the Chinese New Year celebration are the traditional dragon and lion dancers. While the monsters frolic in the streets, watchers light firecrackers and make loud noises to scare the beasts.
The legend says that in ancient times during the winter months, a monster attacked Chinese villagers and their homes. A wise man realized that the monster only appeared during the evening of the new year and also discovered that the monster was afraid of three things: bright light, noise and the color red.
The morning of the holiday is a time to wear new clothes, pay off old debts and visit temples to honor ancestors. It is also a time to forgive old family grudges and launch new beginnings.
“It’s a day to ask for wishes from the temple or a formal way of asking for a favor,” said Chih-Chin Sophia Lee, a Taiwanese master’s student studying at the University.
Families often go and visit with relatives and friends, wishing all a happy new year. While visiting, children and unmarried people receive gifts of lucky money, wrapped in red envelopes. The lucky money signifies good luck and prosperity to both giver and receiver.
During the evening, families enjoy feasts planned for their associations with fortune. A feast might include long noodles symbolizing long life, oysters because the word in Cantonese sounds like ‘good business,’ and fish because it sounds like ‘plentiful.’
The new year festivities can last up to 15 days, when the next yearly holiday, the Lantern Festival, begins.